Whether you want to find out more about your condition or to educate your family members who are uncertain about the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the aim of this article is to help you gain a greater understanding of this medical problem.
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding diabetes. For example, lots of people believe mistakenly that as long as you avoid eating sugar, you can eat anything else that you like. There is also confusion about the differences between type 1 and type 2 – many people think that type 1 is always diagnosed in childhood while type 2 always occurs later in life, after the age of 30. Another popular misconception is that type 2 is always linked to obesity.
Giving both conditions the same name is rather unfortunate, as they are completely different in the way that they are treated and in the actual mechanism of the way the disease works.
In the case of type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system malfunctions, causing it’s own antibodies to attack its own beta cells. The cells are found in the pancreas and are responsible for producing insulin which is essential to processing sugar. Without insulin, sugar cannot be processed and therefore it stays in the blood stream, allowing the blood glucose levels to rise until you become unconscious.
Avoiding sugary foods cannot resolve the problem, as the majority of foods that we consume are converted into glucose. The difference is in how quickly those process takes place – for example a bowl of refined sugary cereal will be converted very rapidly into blood glucose while less refine carbohydrates such as brown rice take longer to be processed.
The treatment for type 1 diabetes is to inject with insulin to correct the balance of blood glucose. The correct amount to inject can be difficult to calculate and sometimes you will get the balance wrong. In that case if your blood sugars become too low, you will have to eat a sugary snack rapidly to get the blood sugars back to normal, or will have to correct with extra insulin as levels are too high which can be dangerous, and have no obvious symptoms.
Meanwhile, those who have type 2 diabetes have developed a resistance to insulin. Unlike in type 1 where the body’s immune system attacks itself, type 2 patients find that their body can no longer respond to insulin. As the body’s insulin is no longer effective, it must produce more, and the strain of doing this means that the beta cells may then become destroyed, which in turn reduces the amount of insulin that can be produced.
While some people with type 2 diabetes can sometimes control their condition by changing their diet and perhaps losing some weight (unlike people with type 1 diabetes, who cannot control their condition without taking insulin), some will need to inject insulin if they have especially low sensitivity to insulin or have beta cell failure.
There can be patients with type 1 diabetes who are overweight and who are diagnosed later in life, which is contrary to common expectations. There can also be patients with type 2 diabetes who are a healthy weight. There are now also some children who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Although generally patients with type 2 diabetes are treated by changes in diet and sometimes tablet medications, there are also some type 2 patients who are treated with insulin just like type 1 patients. It is therefore impossible to assume just by looking at a patient which type of diabetes they have based on their age and body weight.